I work as a social worker with mentally ill clients, most of whom have been diagnosed with schizophrenia. They live independently in apartments in the community and are able to come and go as they please. They work, go to appointments, run errands, and shop in the supermarket just like everyone else. I coordinate their medical and psychiatric care, their employment and leisure activities, and whatever else happens to be going on in their lives. Our staff often functions as their friends, therapists, and caretakers. Some of them have no family, so we fill that role for them as well. We try to give them the best care possible, but many things (really all things, as we’ve learned this year) are not in our control.
Although we have had a few episodes of quarantine, our clients have somehow managed to dodge the bullets and avoid contracting corona. Until last week. One sunny afternoon I met with Meirav*. We sat outdoors, masked and socially distanced, as I do with all my clients. Meirav is very warm, friendly, and demonstrative. Keeping distance goes against her nature, but she’s a real trouper. The very next day she called me crying that she wasn’t feeling well. She was throwing up and felt like she had a fever. Meirav has had recurring stomach issues, so it was certainly plausible that this was just another stomach bug. Wishful thinking.
Two days later, Meirav’s physician sent me a message informing me that Meirav had tested positive for corona. Oh no! This was not good. I wasn’t overly worried about Meirav’s physical condition since she was already well on the road to recovery. But there were a few other issues with which to contend. For one thing, the Ministry of Health put me back in quarantine due to my contact with Meirav. It took some doing and a bit of gentle arm twisting, but when I described the lengths to which I go in order to keep distance from my clients, they set me free. Phew! But more importantly, there was the issue of her apartment-mate, Galina*. Galina is an older woman who is considerably more vulnerable than Meirav. It would have been irresponsible and unfair to leave her in their small apartment together with Meirav. But what to do? Who should leave the apartment? And to where? Meirav’s family is very supportive of her but they were understandably hesitant to take Meirav into their homes out of fear of contracting corona themselves. Galina has no family who can accommodate her. There was nowhere for either of them to go. But they couldn’t both stay. We began to explore the option of sending Meirav to a corona hotel.
Several hotels across the country have been converted into what are known as corona hotels. These hotels are open to all sectors of the population, with some specifically for chareidim. They are run by the Home Front Command and are intended for people suffering from light symptoms of corona who for whatever reason (usually the fear of spreading infection) are unable to recuperate at home. The Home Front Command is responsible to transfer patients to the hotels and manage the logistics involved. Medical care is provided by the Kupot Cholim (HMOs). Upon admission to a corona hotel, each guest is given a medical kit which includes an oximeter, a thermometer, and a mask. They are expected to measure their vitals, which the Kupot Cholim monitor by telephone. Guests are given food and a place to daven, and are expected to do their own laundry, clean their rooms, and change their sheets.
During lockdowns, when everyone is stuck at home unable to meet with outsiders, guests at corona hotels are able to congregate, since they have all tested positive for corona. On Pesach, when extended families were separated from each other, sedorim were conducted at the hotels for hundreds of people. Entertainers went to perform and lift the spirits of the guests. My father’s yahrtzeit fell out during one of the lockdowns. A total stranger was kind enough to say kadish on behalf of my brother when all shuls were closed. These hotels have brought many people together who under normal circumstances would never interact. There is a clip going around of boys from all different types of yeshivas learning together at a corona hotel. Another clip shows boys of all types dancing together on Motzaei Shabbos. It’s really beautiful to see. Shidduchim have even been made in these hotels.
Sending Meirav to a corona hotel would have solved the problem of separating the two women, but it would have created a host of other problems. Uprooting Meirav from her familiar surroundings and sending her off by herself to a hotel with minimal supervision was not exactly in her best interest. Meirav would have been on her own, in foreign territory, with total strangers, while not feeling her best. When Meirav heard about this possibility, she rejected it immediately and threatened to commit suicide if we proceeded with that plan. Sending her to a hotel could potentially have been a recipe for a huge disaster. Truthfully, if not for the issue of contagion, Meirav would have been able to weather her illness at home. But this would have put Galina significantly at risk. We were in a quandary. There was no great solution. Not even a mediocre one. Each one’s needs were diametrically opposed to the other’s. They count on us to take care of them. But how could we have possibly taken care of them both?
Fortunately, with a little more research, I found out about a corona hotel in the north, specifically geared towards this population. The hotel provides a warm and supportive environment while monitoring the medical and emotional condition of each patient. We were somehow able to convince Meirav that she could enjoy two weeks of rest and relaxation where all of her needs would be taken care of. For free. Meirav was transported to the north by an ambulance provided by her Kupot Cholim. While the ambulance ride was a bit on the bumpy side, Meirav has been thrilled ever since she arrived at the hotel. They have a full staff including doctors, nurses, counselors, group activity facilitators, a rehabilitation coordinator, and a recreation coordinator. They have an area to watch TV and play games. The staff keeps the patients busy all day with dancing, Zumba, and an endless array of activities. Basically, they only return to their rooms at night to sleep. Meirav loves her room, the food, and the staff. She feels like she is on an all-expense paid vacation.
As of this writing, Galina is showing no symptoms of corona, Baruch Hashem, and Meirav is having the time of her life. I am so relieved and grateful that we were able to find a solution that met both of their needs. B’ezrat Hashem, Meirav should have a refuah shelaima b’soch sh’ar cholei Yisrael.
*Names changed to protect confidentiality
Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.